Sunday, February 28, 2010

Pursuit of Happyness, Tragedy, Cosmic Power, El and Homer, Philosopher Priest on Homosexuality

1. For Black History Month today, I watched The Pursuit of Happyness, a 2006 film starring Will Smith and his son, Jaden. Will Smith played Chris Gardner, whom wikipedia describes as “on-and-off-homeless salesman-turned stockbroker.” And Jaden plays Chris’ young son, Christopher, Jr., whom Chris is raising through his ups and downs.

I was hoping to end my viewing of Black History movies on a positive note, with a movie that didn’t focus on the harsh realities of racial discrimination. But I forgot how stressful this movie can be to watch! One bad thing after another happens to Chris Gardner. He’s doing all right, and, the next thing you know, he has to pay money for parking tickets and spend the night in jail waiting for his check to clear, although he has an important interview the next morning at Dean Witter. Or he gets run over and loses his shoe. Or one of the bone machines he needs to sell breaks down. Or he has to take care of somebody’s car, even though he has to be at an important meeting in twenty minutes. On one of the Special Features, there’s a documentary about the real Chris Gardner, and it said that Chris couldn’t watch some of the scenes because they brought back painful memories for him. I understand why he’d rather forget certain things!

But the pain that Chris goes through made me root for him, and his character on the movie wasn’t the only one with tears in his eyes when he was offered a job as a stockbroker!

I like the movie because of its rags-to-riches story; its message of not giving up on your dream, regardless of what people say or what happens to you; and its theme of pursuing happiness. But, in an interview on the Special Features, the real Chris Gardner says that these aren’t even the most important lessons of the movie. For him, the most important theme is family—that he was there for his son through all of his ordeals.

Also, Chris was not bragging about his rags-to-riches story. Although I had to admire his wits, his intelligence, and his social skills, which helped him get through his problems and achieve success, I like him even more because he acknowledges that he didn’t make his journey alone, without help. The real Chris Gardner insisted that the minister who ran the homeless shelter where he and his son stayed be granted a role on the movie, for, without him, “there’d be no Chris Gardner.” And Chris has put time and energy into helping others succeed. As Joel Osteen would say (and he’s referred to this movie before), Chris doesn’t just have contacts who help him rise to the top; he also takes the time to be a contact for others.

2. I started Louis Feldman’s Josephus’s Interpretation of the Bible. On pages 6-7, Feldman discusses tragic history, which he contends was common among the Greeks. For Feldman, many Greeks composed their histories to arouse emotions of pity and terror, as well as to convey moral lessons. I’m not sure if “tragedy” implies that the histories had a tragic ending. Perhaps it means that the histories covered tragic events. Feldman mentions Phylarchus’ account of Themistocles’ funeral.

I was one time discussing the Gospels with two Jewish people, a professor and a student. The professor told me that the Gospels were contrived—that Jesus appears good in them because their authors made him look that way. I replied that the Gospels also present Jesus doing some pretty embarrassing things, which they wouldn’t do if their aim were to create an unhistorical whitewash. For me, the embarrassing details demonstrated the Gospels’ historicity. The example I cited was Jesus’ statement on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” The student then responded that Jesus in the Gospels was like a Greek hero, who suffers.

Perhaps the Greeks liked to emphasize heroes who suffered. I remember when I studied Homer’s Iliad in high school, and that was the first place where I heard the term “catharsis.”

And, during Black History Month, I’ve watched histories that have plenty of tragic moments. Roots. Roots: The Next Generation. The Jesse Owens Story. Men of Honor. The Pursuit of Happyness. People suffer. Sometimes, they succeed. Sometimes, they don’t. But they go down fighting—each in his or her own way. And perhaps their heroism lies not in whether they triumph or not, but in the fact that they keep going on.

3. In Psalms II: 51-100, I read Mitchell Dahood’s comments on Psalm 99. On page 368, Dahood says, “The psalmist states the reason why earth and all nations should cringe before Yahweh; even Mount Zion cannot contain his cosmic power.”

It’s good for me to be reminded of the glory of God in the course of my studies.

4. I was a little confused by my reading today of Theodore Mullen’s Assembly of the Gods. El was the high god of the pantheon in Ugaritic literature, whereas Baal was a lower deity who ruled the cosmos after his defeat of Yam, the chaotic sea. Mullen says that Baal defeating the sea was connected in some way with creation (13), for the two things are associated with each other throughout the Hebrew Bible and ancient Near Eastern literature: a god defeats chaos, then he creates the cosmos. Yet, Mullen cites texts in which El is called the creator, and El doesn’t really fight battles, even though he may help warriors every now and then. El appears to be above the fray (though I wouldn’t bet my life on this claim), for the chaotic Yam is called “the beloved of El.” At the same time, El’s called a bull, which “carries militaristic implications” (30).

Mullen refers to Philo of Byblos (first-second centuries C.E.), whose description of Phoenician religion often corresponds with ancient Ugaritic texts. Philo has a story in which El (called Kronos) attains kingship after waging war with his father, Ouranos, in an attempt to avenge his mother, Ge. El then castrates his father, “casts his brother into the underworld, sacrifices his son, and marries his sister” (33).

That overlaps with my reading of H.I. Marrou’s A History of Education in Antiquity. Marrous states on page 10:

The moral ideal [in Homer] was rather complicated. There is first of all the “cunning” type of person [who has] the art of knowing how to get out of any awkward situation! Our conscience, refined by centuries of Christianity, sometimes feels a slight uneasiness about this—think how complaisant [the goddess] Athena is, for example, when one of her dear Ulysses’ lies turns out to be particularly successful.

So the Greek gods don’t always live up to our Christian expectations! This quote stood out to me because of Ken Pulliam’s recent discussions of the biblical Conquest stories (for the latest post, see Grasping at Straws Part Five–Evangelicals Defend Genocide), in which God commands the slaughter of Canaanite children. In this case, the Bible appears to fall short of our moral sensibilities.

Moreover, could it be that the stories about Abraham lying to save his own skin—in the wife-sister stories of Genesis 12 and 20—are examples of his “cunning” ability to get out of situations. He keeps on lying, so he mustn’t think that it’s wrong in those cases! At the same time, God’s the one who bails Abraham out, who rescues the mother of many nations, Sarah, from becoming another man’s woman. So perhaps Abraham’s strategy didn’t work. Maybe he should’ve trusted God to protect him.

Marrou had other interesting points about Homer. On page 4, he mentions “a fascinating, far-off past, when not only gods but beasts could speak.” This reminds me of the Bible’s story about Eden, in which the serpent talks (which doesn’t seem to surprise Eve), and God speaks directly to humanity. In Antiquities 1:41, Josephus appears to suggest that animals before the Fall could speak. And, on page 5, Marrou refers to Patroclus, who “came to seek refuge at the court of Phthia, fleeing from Opontus, his fatherland, after accidentally killing someone.” That calls to mind the biblical laws about cities of refuge for those who accidentally kill a person (Numbers 35).

5. At Latin mass this morning, philosopher priest spoke against homosexuality. He said that we wouldn’t be tolerant of a bank-robber, so why should we embrace homosexuality? He also said that pedophilia is practically the only sexual sin that society acknowledges as such, whereas it has accepted sex outside of marriage, adultery, and (now) homosexuality. Moreover, he states that homosexuality is a selfish act. For him, sex is intended for procreation, which is others-oriented, since it implies the establishment and maintenance of a family. But homosexuals cannot procreate. And the priest said that using contraception in sex is as bad as homosexuality, since it too seeks sex without procreation.

If an evangelical was fire-breathing this message, I’d probably walk out of the service, but I can tolerate it from philosopher priest, who sounds so methodical and low-key (yet high church).

It’s interesting that I heard this sermon today, for homosexuality has been on my mind as of late. It seems as if it’s all over the place in the media, as if there’s a push for us to accept it as normal. Katherine on Desperate Housewives is flirting with homosexuality. And, on Friday’s Ghost Whisperer, we think that a man had an affair with a woman, until we learn that the man’s wife had the affair with her.

About a decade ago, controversy erupted when men kissed men or women kissed women on popular programs. Now, there are gay couples on television. But they’re usually the minority, as most characters are heterosexual. What concerns me about Katherine on Desperate Housewives is that she’s coming close to breaking another barrier. Characters on TV are already on-the-make for sexual partners of the opposite sex, as was Katherine, up to this point. But why not be on-the-make for sexual partners of the same sex? Do you see my concern? We’re basically being told that we should be able to sleep with anyone who is willing—that we should feel free to explore sex: same sex, opposite sex, it doesn’t matter.

I don’t agree with everything that the priest said this morning. Sex is not only about procreation, for it’s also about intimacy between two people. It should be “making love,” whether children come out of it, or not. Homosexuals can do this, as can heterosexuals, so the homosexual act doesn’t have to be selfish. I’d say that promiscuity—the divorce of sex from love—is where the selfishness lies.

I’d like for society to become accepting of different people, but I’m also concerned that we’re becoming a moral cesspool.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

The Old South, I Kings 16

1. For Black History Month today, I watched The Rosa Parks Story (2002) and To Kill a Mockingbird.

As I watched The Rosa Parks Story, with its emphasis on maintaining one’s self-respect in the midst of a culture that treats one as an inferior, I was reminded of the wikipedia article on Condoleezza Rice, the National Security Advisor then Secretary of State under President George W. Bush. It states the following about her childhood in the Jim Crow South, and how her parents raised her to overcome racism and not to limit herself:

Rice experienced firsthand the injustices of Birmingham’s discriminatory laws and attitudes. She was instructed to walk proudly in public and to use the facilities at home rather than subject herself to the indignity of “colored” facilities in town. As Rice recalls of her parents and their peers, “they refused to allow the limits and injustices of their time to limit our horizons.”[83]

However, Rice recalls various times in which she suffered discrimination on account of her race, which included being relegated to a storage room at a department store instead of a regular dressing room, being barred from going to the circus or the local amusement park, being denied hotel rooms, and even being given bad food at restaurants.[4] Also, while Rice was mostly kept by her parents from areas where she might face discrimination, she was very aware of the civil rights struggle and the problems of Jim Crow Birmingham. A neighbor, Juliemma Smith, described how “[Condi] used to call me and say things like, ‘Did you see what Bull Connor did today?’ She was just a little girl and she did that all the time. I would have to read the newspaper thoroughly because I wouldn’t know what she was going to talk about.”[4] Rice herself said of the segregation era: “Those terrible events burned into my consciousness. I missed many days at my segregated school because of the frequent bomb threats.”[4]

During the violent days of the Civil Rights Movement, [her father] Reverend Rice armed himself and kept guard over the house while Condoleezza practiced the piano inside. According to J.L. Chestnut, Reverend Rice called local civil rights leader Fred Shuttlesworth and his followers “uneducated, misguided Negroes.”[84][85] Also, Reverend Rice instilled in his daughter and students that black people would have to prove themselves worthy of advancement, and would simply have to be “twice as good” to overcome injustices built into the system.[86] Rice said “My parents were very strategic, I was going to be so well prepared, and I was going to do all of these things that were revered in white society so well, that I would be armored somehow from racism. I would be able to confront white society on its own terms.”[87] While the Rices supported the goals of the civil rights movement, they did not agree with the idea of putting their child in harm’s way.[4]

Rice was eight when her schoolmate Denise McNair, aged 11, was killed in the bombing of the primarily black Sixteenth Street Baptist Church by white supremacists on September 15, 1963…Rice states that growing up during racial segregation taught her determination against adversity, and the need to be “twice as good” as non-minorities.[89] Segregation also hardened her stance on the right to bear arms; Rice has said in interviews that if gun registration had been mandatory, her father’s weapons would have been confiscated, leaving them defenseless against Ku Klux Klan nightriders.[4]

On To Kill a Mockingbird, I appreciated the role of Boo Radley more this time around. Boo was a recluse who was viewed as a “boogy man” by his neighbors, yet he had a protective attitude towards the children, Scout and Jem.

A scene that sticks out to me is the one where Cal, the black housekeeper, rebukes Scout for criticizing her guest’s mannerism of putting syrup on his dinner. In the movie, Cal takes the place of the child’s mother, who has died. That reminds me of what I saw on The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman (in which Collin Wilcox of To Kill of Mockingbird plays a role), where the white lord of the manor tells the elderly Miss Jane that she practically raised him, so he’s reluctant to threaten her for her decision to drink from the “whites only” drinking fountain. The old South baffles me. Whites could have affection towards African-Americans, yet they could turn around and smile and jeer when a lynching was taking place, as if they were at a picnic (as pictures of lynchings document).

But there could be exceptions. In the fictional work, To Kill a Mockingbird, there’s Atticus Finch, and also the white sheriff, who is fair-minded and laments that a black man died “for no reason.” Are people shaped by their culture? If so, then how could Harper Lee conceive of white characters who thought outside of their culture, who chose to treat African-Americans fairly rather than as inferiors? And how could African-Americans choose not to interiorize the insults of their society, to see themselves as people of dignity who are deserving of rights?

2. For my weekly quiet time this week, I studied I Kings 16. I thought about issues of providence and free will. Vv 18-19 brought this issue to my attention. There, Zimri, the new king of Israel who has just assassinated the previous king, burns down his own house while he’s inside of it. Zimri is worried because Omri, the commander of Israel’s army, has just been appointed king of Israel, so he’s coming to Zimri to lay claim to his position, by force if necessary. And v 19 says that this happened because of Zimri’s sins, in walking after the path of Jeroboam, who made Israel to sin.

This baffles some people, for Zimri only ruled Israel for seven days. How could the Deuteronomist make such a judgment about Zimri’s short career? He didn’t exactly have time to be righteous or wicked, right?

But the Deuteronomist may be criticizing Zimri because he went with the flow. He didn’t protest against the idolatry that Jeroboam had established. He wasn’t an Atticus Finch. Or, more to our topic, he’s not Abijah in rabbinic literature, or Tobit, who went to Jerusalem to worship, even though their Northern Israelite culture didn’t think highly of that.

But here’s where providence and free-will come in. Omri chose to leave the Philistine battlefield where the Israelite army then was to go to Tirzah (the capitol of Northern Israel) and lay claim to the kingship. Zimri chose to burn down his house with himself inside of it, afraid of what Omri would do to him. These people are acting according to their free-will, as it is shaped by their carnal impulses of spite, greed, or fear. Yet, the biblical author asserts that God is at work in all of this, accomplishing his just purposes. Is God causing the characters to act in this way? Are they making their own decisions? The answer to both may be “yes.”

Yet, here’s something else that’s weird. In I Kings 15-16, God lifted Baasha from the dust so that he could become king of Northern Israel in place of Jeroboam’s dynasty. Yet, v 7 says that God punished Baasha because he killed the person representing the house of Jeroboam, King Nadab, Jeroboam’s son. Just because God appoints a person king, that doesn’t mean he has the right to murder the person who is currently in charge. David recognized that when he was on the run from Saul. Jeroboam didn’t kill King Rehoboam (though, to be fair, God didn’t promise Jeroboam that he’d have Rehoboam’s dominion, Southern Israel). But God could make exceptions on this policy, for God commanded Jehu to kill Ahab’s house as punishment for its murder of God’s prophets (II Kings 9:7).

So maybe God has plans, which he executes in response to our decisions. But he desires for us to behave righteously in the course of his plans—he predicted that Baasha would be king, yet he didn’t want Baasha to kill the current king, but rather to trust God to work things out. Yet, even when people misbehave out of their carnal desires, God can use that to fulfill his just desires. Does God cause them to make their bad decisions? Perhaps God’s working with the carnality that’s there—not creating it, but working with it, or pointing it in a certain direction. “Hey, Omri, now’s a good time for you to become king! I know it’s what you’ve always wanted!”

Friday, February 26, 2010

Roots TNG 6-7, Corroborating Word-Of-Mouth, Baal and El

1. For Black History Month today, I watched Episodes 6-7 of Roots: The Next Generation. The subject I’ll be focusing on in this section is vocation, which also popped up in some of my academic readings.

Alex Haley wondered what he was going to do with his life. Although his father, Simon, believed that education was the key to a black man’s success, Alex didn’t care for school. Contrary to his dad’s wishes, he didn’t want to follow his father’s footsteps and get a Ph.D., then go on to become President of a black college. His grandmother, Cynthia, told Alex that he didn’t have to become like his father, for he had to find his own way—what he felt he needed to do. At the beginning of Episode 6, there was a recap of the previous episode, in which Alex’s mother, Bertha, told her son that Simon (unlike many people) had an important task in life and needed to see it through. The same was true for Alex, but he didn’t know for some time what his task was.

Alex found in the Coast Guard during World War II that he had a talent for writing, for he wrote excellent love letters on behalf of his ship-mates, who were hoping to sweep their sweethearts off their feet. After the Coast Guard, however, he learned that getting a writing career was a lot harder than it looked, and he experienced a lot of rejection. But his boss, Commander Robert Munroe (played by Andy Griffith), told him to write about the things that he’s passionate about, such as the racial discrimination that he experienced as he searched for a hotel room for himself, his wife, and his baby.

Alex accomplished some important work, as he wrote the Autobiography of Malcom X as well as the story of his brother George, who went through law school and became a successful Republican politician (who, since then, has gone on to serve in Presidential Administrations). But he felt that something was missing, that there was a larger reason for his being on earth. He was inspired to see if there was corroboration for the stories that his elderly relatives told—about their descent from the African, Kunta Kinte. But not only was he on a search for his family’s roots in order to understand where he came from. He also wanted to give a voice to the unheard in American history—the African-Americans, who endured slavery and then went on to experience oppression and discrimination.

Vocation. What’s my purpose in this life? There have been times in my life when I’ve thought that I have some destiny—something important to accomplish. But, as I watched Roots and its sequel, I saw that generations come and go, and not everyone becomes famous. Most people don’t. They just get through life, trying to survive, and hopefully enjoying the company of family and friends.

Two of my academic readings today were (1.) Michael Stone’s “Ideal Figures and Social Context: Priest and Sage in the Early Second Temple Age,” which appeared in Ancient Israelite Religion, and (2.) H.I. Marrou’s A History of Education in Antiquity. Stone talks some about Jesus ben Sirach’s comments on scribes. For Jesus ben Sirach, manual labor is good, but a career studying the Torah is even better, for one can be edified therein as well as arrive at a position of status in society. And Marrou refers to a third millennium B.C.E. Egyptian text in which “the scribe Akhtoy [is] trying to encourage his son Pepi to follow the thankless study of letters by painting a satirical picture of the thousand and one drawbacks there are in any kind of manual work, which he contrasts with the happy life of the scribe, and the nobility of his lofty vocation” (xv-xvi).

Personally, at this time in my life, my fantasy is to work at a simple job that earns me enough money to survive, and to contribute to the world of ideas at night, through blogging, as I blog through what I read. As far as my “larger purpose” is concerned, I’m not sure what that is at the moment. Maybe I’ll learn as I keep on doing what I’m doing.

2. In Psalms II: 51-100, I read Mitchell Dahood’s comments on Psalm 98. Dahood calls it “A hymn praising Yahweh’s kingship…extolling him for his triumph over heathen gods both in primordial and in historical times, and foretelling his return to re-establish the universal reign of justice.” In ancient Israelite religion, Yahweh had a lot of enemies, from the chaos that preceded creation to his historical enemies, such as Pharaoh and Sennacherib. The ancient Israelites drew strength and hope from these stories, probably because they believed that they were passed down from generation to generation (Psalm 78), much like the story of Kunta Kinte in Roots.

But is there independent historical corroboration? Some people have questioned Alex Haley’s research. Alex Haley’s thesis was that Kunta Kinte’s name was changed to Toby on the plantation, and Toby had Kizzy, who had Chicken George, etc. But, as the wikipedia article on Alex Haley documents, some scholars have challenged that:

According to Haley, Kunta Kinte was sold into slavery, where he was given the name Toby, and, while in the service of a slavemaster named John Waller, went on to have a daughter named Kizzy, Haley’s great-great-great grandmother. Haley also claimed to have identified the specific slave ship and the actual voyage on which Kunta Kinte was transported from Africa to North America in 1767. However, genealogist Elizabeth Shown Mills and historian Gary B. Mills revisited Haley’s research and concluded that those claims of Haley’s were false.[7][8] According to the Millses, the slave named Toby who was owned by John Waller could be definitively shown to have been in North America as early as 1762. They further said that Toby died years prior to the supposed date of birth of Kizzy. There have also been suggestions that Kebba Kanji Fofana, the amateur griot in Jufureh, who, during Haley’s visit there, confirmed the tale of the disappearance of Kunta Kinte, had been coached to relate such a story.[9][10].

Alex Haley may have an answer for these genealogists if he were alive today, but suppose his facts are off. Does this matter? On some level, “no,” for, even if some of the facts about his family were wrong, Alex Haley still portrayed what happened to African-Americans: being taken from their home in Africa, enslavement in America, challenges in post-slavery times, etc. On the other hand, the miniseries tells us that a big part of his self-esteem and that of his family was their descent from Kunta Kinte, who was from a prominent family in Africa and sought freedom in America, even though it cost him his foot. If that’s not true, then that’s a bummer.

Did God have to fight chaos at creation? Did the Exodus literally happen? Even if not, I hope that there’s some evidence in the world that God triumphs over evil, that evil does not have the last word—even if that evidence is anecdotal.

3. I started Theodore Mullen’s The Assembly of the Gods. On page 5, Mullen refers to “pre-exilic literature in Israel.” I’ll be interested to see what he identifies as such, for, as we’ve seen, he dates the Pentateuch and the biblical historical writings to Israel’s exilic and post-exilic periods. He may date some of the Hebrew Bible’s poetry to pre-exilic times.

I may have to rethink some of what I’ve said about El, Baal, and Yam. According to Mullen, scholars who claim that Baal took El’s place as supreme God of the pantheon are wrong, for Baal merely took control of the cosmos after his defeat of the chaotic Yam (sea). El still had his share of power as head of the pantheon, though, for “No major action could be undertaken in the pantheon without the explicit permission of the high god” (10). On page 9, Mullen says that El supported Baal in his battles. I’m not sure if that’s true about Baal’s battle with Yam, whom El sent to keep Baal in line—unless El changed his mind and supported Baal once Yam got out of hand. Or maybe Mullen’s referring to Baal’s battle with Mot, death. As I said in my post, The Dead, and the Rising, there were gods who helped Baal leave the Underworld, an extremely difficult task.

On pages 1-2, Mullen notes that God is called “El” in the Hebrew Bible and that there are no biblical polemics against El, whereas there are plenty against Baal. Maybe the ancient Israelites believed in the same high god as their Canaanite and Phoenician neighbors. Or maybe they didn’t make a big deal about El because El wasn’t widely worshipped, whereas Baal was (10).

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Miss Jane Pittman, Torah in Psalm 119, Eschatological Psalm, Why Create Riddles?, Sophia’s Fall

1. For Black History Month today, I watched The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman on YouTube. It’s a 1974 movie about a 110-year-old African-American woman in the 1960’s South, who grew up as a slave during the Civil War. It got nine Emmy Awards. The last time I saw this movie (before today, that is) was in fifth grade, which was over twenty years ago.

Memory is odd. There were things in the movie that rang a bell, and things I was expecting to see but did not see. Things that rang a bell: a kindly Union officer changes Tassey’s name to “Jane,” to replace her slave name; a bigoted and bereaved white woman (played by Katherine Helmond of Soap, Who’s the Boss, and Everybody Loves Raymond) gives newly-freed Jane and her friend a drink of water, but won’t let them put their “filthy black mouths” (her words) on the cup; the white reporter interviewing Jane chows down on some tasty raw sugar cane; and Jane drinks from the “whites only” water fountain, as the white sheriff and the bigots surrounding it decide not to beat her up or arrest her on account of her age.

For some reason, I was expecting to see a scene in which Miss Jane had a romance, and her husband was killed by the KKK, which was burning a cross outside of her home. But that wasn’t on the movie. There was a scene in which Jane’s husband owed his white employer fifty dollars for keeping the Klan away. In another scene, Jane’s activist son is shot by a hit-man, who was friends with Jane and warned her that he was ordered to kill her son. And Jane’s activist grandson was killed for trying to drink from the “whites only” water fountain.

There was also a reference in the movie to “the one.” I remember Oprah calling Barack Obama “the one,” the person who would lead African-Americans to freedom. She may have gotten that concept from this movie, or from the book that inspired it. Miss Jane said that black mothers wonder if their newborn baby boy is “the one” who will lead their people, and she thought that her grandson was that one. And, in a sense, he was, for he encouraged an African-American church to participate in the Civil Rights movement. Maybe there’s not just one “the one,” but there can be more than one leader who brings freedom to the African-American people, or leads them so that they can gain freedom for themselves.

2. In Ancient Israelite Religion, I read Jon Levenson’s “The Sources of Torah: Psalm 119 and the Moses of Revelation in Second Temple Judaism.” Levenson dates Psalm 119 (which praises God’s law and commandments) to the Second Temple Period, which was after the exile. During part of that period, the Pentateuch was in flux, and people were producing documents purporting to be divinely-inspired, such as the Book of Jubilees. According to Levenson, the ”Torah” that Psalm 119 exalts is not the Pentateuch (although the Psalm draws some from Deuteronomy), but rather “(1) received tradition, passed on most explicitly by teachers (vv 99-100), (2) cosmic or natural law (vv 89-91), and (3) unmediated divine teaching (e.g., vv 26-29).” Levenson still acknowledges, however, that Psalm 119 draws from ”books we consider ‘biblical’”, for they ”hold a kind of normative status for him” and “provide the language with which to formulate a significant statement.”

Still, I’d like to think that, when the Psalmist asks God in Psalm 119:18 to open his eyes so he can see wonderful things from God’s law, he’s asking God to help him to learn from a book that we consider biblical—a book with laws. But I’m open to the Psalmist embracing other forms of divine revelation as well: education from teachers, guidance from God, etc.

3. In Psalms II: 51-100, I read Mitchell Dahood’s comments on Psalm 97. Dahood calls it an “eschatological hymn of three parts portraying the coming of Yahweh as universal judge.” I wonder when he dates it. Does he date the Psalm to Israel’s post-exilic period, a time of intense apocalyptic expectations? Ordinarily, Dahood dates Psalms earlier than that—to Israel’s pre-exilic period, sometimes even the time of Solomon. One can perhaps make a case that some form of eschatology existed that far back. As I said in my post, Black History Month at the Library, Mean Persians, ANE Universalism, Saul’s Reminder, Desolation—However Long It Takes, Dahood contends that the belief in a god who rules over all people was common in the ancient Near East as far back as the third millennium B.C.E. In my posts, God in the Ancient Near East and Thy Kingdom Come, I discuss the ancient Near Eastern belief that a righteous king will come and set things right. So Dahood may think that a Psalm can be eschatological and pre-exilic at the same time.

4. I finished Theodore Mullen’s Narrative History and Ethnic Boundaries. I’ve wondered if Mullen’s thesis is that the Deuteronomistic History was created out of whole-cloth during the exile to give Israel a common history and a sense of nationality. I was a little thrown on page 273, where Mullen says that the Deuteronomist has to explain why God didn’t immediately destroy Israel for the sins of Ahab, and Dtr’s solution is that Ahab repented. According to Mullen, the ability of repentance to postpone divine punishment is a common Deuteronomistic theme. But why does the Deuteronomist have to solve any riddles, if he’s writing the story out of whole-cloth? That the Deuteronomist has to solve riddles at all indicates that he’s using sources that he considers authoritative and historical, and he’s trying to explain their contents in terms of his own religious ideology. That’s a challenge that creates puzzles!

On page 285, Mullen states that “The ethnic unity of Israel was one to be recreated from the traditions, history, and culture that had so nearly been lost in the flames that destroyed the old state of Israel and that had now nearly enveloped Judah.” So maybe Mullen does believe that the Deuteronomist used pre-exilic traditions, as he conformed those traditions to an ideology that would speak to Israel in exile and give her a sense of identity.

5. I also finished John Dillon’s The Middle Platonists. (I realize that I’ve been calling him “John Denton” over the last couple of posts. I’ll change that when I feel up to it.) On pages 386-388, he discusses the origin of the cosmos, according to Valentinian Gnosticism. Gnostics hated the material world and viewed it as the creation of an evil—or at least ignorant—Demiurge. Yet, there’s a higher god in Gnostic thought—a good God. So how did evil arise? According to the Valentinians, what got the ball rolling was the goddess Sophia (wisdom) desiring to know her origin and the “nature of the Forefather.” She fell as a result of this wish, and was later reinstated, yet her fall caused a lot of disruption in the realm of the gods. Out of this disruption came the Demiurge, who tried to create the world according to the eternal forms but was ignorant. The Demiurge made man, but his mother put the pneuma in human beings so that they can have the ability to know their spiritual selves and to be united with the divine after the material world comes to an end.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

George Wallace, Division with Unity, Plural of Majesty, Legend or History?, Numenius—Not a Gnostic

1. For Black History Month today, I watched George Wallace, a 1997 TNT miniseries starring Gary Sinise, Mare Winningham, Angelina Jolie, and Clarence Williams III. It received many awards, and I once read that Gary Sinise received his Emmy for his depiction of George Wallace on the same night that the real George Wallace passed away.

The movie depicts Wallace as a progressive who lost his first election for Governor of Alabama because he didn’t criticize African-Americans, and resolved from that point on to be a vocal proponent of racial segregation. According to the movie, his rhetoric agitated race relations in Alabama and led to the deaths of four African-American little girls, when their church was firebombed. When he was paralyzed by an assassin’s bullet and had managed to push away many of the people who cared about him, he reflected on the damage he had done in his pursuit of political power. As the box for the VHS tape says, Wallace was “a man who once hungered for power and now hungers for forgiveness.”

Indeed, George Wallace capitalized on a system that treated African-Americans as inferior, as did his political opponents, and that was wrong. As his friend and predecessor, Governor “Big Jim” Folsom, told him, Wallace should’ve been a moral leader and encouraged people to listen to their angels, rather than reflecting their demons to gain political power. “Big Jim” was also right to say that George Wallace had unleashed the dogs of hate, who would one day come back to bite him. That reminds me of Malcom X’s statement after the Kennedy assassination that the “chickens had come home to roost,” for violence begets violence. Consequently, the true heroes of the movie were the African-Americans who chose to forgive Governor Wallace, after all the pain he’d caused them.

But the movie should’ve acknowledged a little bit more than it did a point that was made in the book that inspired the movie, Wallace, by Marshall Frady, who also wrote the teleplay for the movie: Wallace accomplished a lot of good for his state, at least by liberal standards. Frady states on pages 140:

As governor, Wallace proved to be, aside from his racial aberration, essentially a Populist…He built fourteen new junior colleges and fifteen new trade schools, initiated a $100 million school-construction program and a free textbook policy. He pitched into the largest roadbuilding project in the state’s history, devised plans for new nursing homes and medical clinics, and introduced an ambitious act to keep all the waterways of the state twinkling clean. And the proportion of Alabama citizens—338 out of every thousand—participating in public welfare programs at the end of his term was exceeded by those of only one other state, Louisiana.

The American Experience documentary on George Wallace, Settin’ the Woods on Fire, said that Wallace as Governor enacted programs that helped all of Alabama’s citizens, white and black.

Wallace should be criticized for what he did wrong, and praised for what he did right.

2. In Ancient Israelite Religion, I read Shemaryahu Talmon’s “The Emergence of Jewish Sectarianism in the Early Second Temple Period.” My impression of Talmon’s argument is that he thinks there wasn’t much sectarianism in pre-exilic Israelite society because the country was rather homogeneous. Sure, there were clear differences, but the Israelites agreed on the things that distinguished them from other cultures. I can somewhat see Talmon’s point, even though I admit that there were differences in ancient Israelite society: some worshipped YHWH alone, and others worshipped other deities as well; there was a Northern Kingdom and a Southern Kingdom. But both kingdoms embraced some sort of Yahwism. And, after the destruction of the Northern Kingdom, the temple in Jerusalem was acknowledged as an important place of worship by the Israelites.

But, during and particularly after the exile, Talmon contends, there was debate about who was truly Israel. (At least that’s how I’m reading Talmon, and I’m far from inerrant!) The returning exiles excluded the Samaritans from their community, and regarded the returnees from exile as the genuine Israelites. Eventually, there were debates about who was a true priest, as disaffected Zadokites fled to the desert to establish their own community. So there was division after the exile that didn’t really exist before, and that led to sects. (As Jon Levenson liked to say, “The Second Temple Period had a lot of sects.”)

Actually, what’s ironic is that the post-exilic Israelites had more agreement on religion. At least everyone agreed by this point that Israel should worship only one God! So sects emerged when there was greater unity. It’s like fundamentalism: the fundamentalists broke away from mainline Christianity because they agreed on certain fundamentals (i.e., inerrancy, virgin birth, etc.), but then the fundamentalist denominations started splitting up in pursuit of doctrinal purity.

3. In Psalms II: 51-100, I read Mitchell Dahood’s comments on Psalm 89. On page 316, Dahood says there’s a “plural of majesty” in v 51 (in the MT), which uses the plural for God’s singular servant, who (in the singular) bears reproach. Or maybe the verse is asking God to remember the reproach of all of God’s servants, of which the Psalmist’s is one example. In any case, I think there is something like a “plural of majesty” in the Hebrew Bible, for the plural of adon (“lord”) is often used for a single human being (e.g., Genesis 24:9-10; 39:2, etc.). Yet, I should note that there are scholars who dispute the existence of the “plural of majesty.” When I referred to it in a paper, my professor wrote in the margin, “There is no plural of majesty.” Maybe he’d say that the use of the plural of adon for a single person is just something the Hebrew does. I don’t know if it does the same thing for non-majestic words.

4. I read more of Theodore Mullen’s Narrative History and Ethnic Boundaries, which I will probably finish either tomorrow or the day after. Mullen seems to be saying that the Saul and David stories speak to Israel in exile. Not only do they establish Israel as a nation, by giving her a legend in which she had a king (a big aspect of nations), but they also teach her lessons about obedience, a fresh start (which David was after the disappointment that Saul was), and God’s faithfulness to Israel even as he chastises her for sin.

My impression of Mullen is that he’s somewhat of a minimalist. That reminds me of a good post by John Hobbins, A Critique of Minimalism: Walter Dietrich reviews John Van Seters, in which Hobbins critiques both maximalists and minimalists. Is the David story legend conveying an ideological point, or is it solid history? Maybe it’s a little of both!

5. While reading John Denton’s The Middle Platonists, I was trying to get somewhat of a handle on the views of the second century philosopher Numenius (whom my long-time readers have met before, in my post, Numenius’ Trinity). Numenius didn’t care much for matter, and he advocated asceticism and valuing the soul over the body. Was he like the Gnostics, who viewed the material world as the creation of an evil sub-deity? Not exactly. On page 369, Denton says that Numenius felt the creator Demiurge had a lust for matter, which caused him (the Demiurge) to forget himself. That’s weakness of will, but not exactly evil. Plus, according to pages 375-376, Numenius proposed that souls entered bodies because they were tempted by the pleasures that the material world would give them. But Numenius didn’t believe that the world was totally evil, for he held that its evil principle is subordinate to the Good.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Black History Month at the Library, Mean Persians, ANE Universalism, Saul’s Reminder, Desolation—However Long It Takes

I’ll be fast today, for I’m tired and I want to get to Lost sometime tonight.

1. For Black History Month today, I read encyclopedia articles at the library. I read about Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. DuBois in African-American Culture and History, and about welfare reform in the 1997 African-American Encyclopedia.

Booker T. told blacks to tolerate segregation and to work hard to become productive members of society, yet, in secret, he tried to undermine segregation through “tests” (whatever that means). W.E.B. DuBois was prominent in the NAACP, yet there came a few points where it couldn’t stomach him because of his socialistic and even Communistic sympathies. He eventually moved to Ghana.

The article on welfare reform said that 33 per cent of African-Americans are in poverty, and that the child poverty rate for African-Americans is in the forty per cent range. The child poverty rate is probably higher because there are poor families that have lots of kids.

The article closed on a Booker T. sort of note, saying that African-Americans need to rely on themselves and their communities rather than depending on the government, which (at the time, due to the congressional Republicans’ proposal for welfare reform) was thinking of curtailing benefits—or, more precisely, tightening eligibility requirements. It laments that many African-Americans spend more money outside of their communities rather than using it to support black-owned businesses.

2. In Ancient Israelite Religion, I read Eric Meyers’ “The Persian Period and the Judean Restoration: From Zerubbabel to Nehemiah.”

In 460 B.C.E., there was an Egyptian revolt against Persia, and Persia “tended to reverse the more liberal policies implemented by Darius I or even Cyrus the Great earlier.” This applied to the “coastal territories” (whatever they were) yet probably impacted Yehud. Could this be why my Bible comic books depict the Persian king as having a mad face at a certain point, whereas Cyrus and Darius had nice faces?

(I feel like Elaine on Seinfeld when she wasn’t having sex, and George after he did.)

3. I read about Psalm 96 in Mitchell Dahood’s Psalms II: 51-100. On page 357, Dahood contends that the Psalm’s universalism (“Declare among the nations his glory”; “He will govern the world with his justice”) does not necessarily mean that the Psalmist here is indebted to Second Isaiah (Isaiah 40-55), who has a universalistic vision of the nations worshipping YHWH. As Dahood says, “it is widely recognized that universalism, namely, the rule of God over the whole world as well as over one people, was current in the ancient Near East from the third millennium onward.” Dahood cites some secondary sources, which I’m not in the mood to look at right now. But what he says makes sense: every nation believed that its god was the top one. I know that many of them saw their god as the creator, so it’s not a far leap to conclude that they believed their god was supreme. But did they expect all nations to worship their god? That’s where I’m uncertain, and maybe those secondary sources Dahood cites could shed some light thereon.

4. On page 205 of Narrative History and Ethnic Boundaries, Theodore Mullen says that Saul’s prophesying in I Samuel 10:11-13 was intended to confirm his status as God’s chosen king. Perhaps, but what’s its significance in I Samuel 19, where Saul prophesies with the prophets after having been rejected by God for the monarchy, and in the very midst of his hostile pursuit of David? Was Saul being reminded of the pinnacle from which he spiritually sunk?

5. The first-second century C.E. philosopher Nicomachus says the following (as quoted on page 360 of John Denton’s The Middle Platonists):

When men suffer injustice, they are willing that the Gods should exist, but when they do injustice, they are not willing; and that is the reason that they suffer injustice [through divine providence], that they may be willing to believe in the Gods.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Ryan Hunter Falls Out of Joan Into Ghost Whisperer

I just watched the pilot for Ghost Whisperer, which premiered in 2005.

Here’s what’s weird. Ghost Whisperer replaced Joan of Arcadia on CBS, after the latter was cancelled. In the cliff-hanger of Joan of Arcadia, Wentworth Miller played Ryan Hunter, a rich guy who also saw God, yet was somewhat of a villain. But we never got to see how that played out because Joan was cancelled.

But Wentworth Miller was on the pilot for Ghost Whisperer, the show that took Joan’s place. He played the ghost of a soldier, whom Melinda reconciled with her son. I find that pretty weird! I wonder if the makers of Ghost Whisperer were trying to win over Joan fans, who were disgruntled that Joan was cancelled and replaced by another series.

Roots TNG 4-5, Reward and Punishment in Wisdom Literature?, YHWH Alone, We’re Rodents!, Pythagoreans on the Cosmos’ Origin

1. For Black History Month today, I watched Episodes 4-5 of Roots: The Next Generation.

I usually choke up when I watch the end of Episode 4, in which Will Palmer holds up his new grandson, Alex Haley, to the moon, as his wife Cynthia says to her daughter Bertha after telling her the story of Kunta Kinte: “Moon, this here is the seventh generation from then. This here is Alex Haley. You watch over him!” After ten episodes, we’ve finally arrived at the author of Roots!

Alex’s mother, Bertha, often intrigued me, and I can’t really pinpoint why. As a young woman of college age, she was like the belle of the ball, and she was rather oblivious to the harsh realities of racial discrimination. When the Jewish owner of the dress-shop delivers her dress to her after the KKK had burned down his business, she prances around like a peacock, bragging about how pretty she is. And most of her classmates at the black college she attends are just like her. Simon Haley was the only student who thought about the problems of African-Americans, and many of his fellow students made fun of him because he was the poor son of a sharecropper. Bertha and many of her fellow students were part of a new generation of African-Americans, whose parents owned businesses and who didn’t think much about racial discrimination.

But, for some reason, when she started to see it, she wasn’t really phased by it. When Simon Haley calls himself a “nigger,” Bertha tells him never to use the white man’s name for himself. He’s colored, as is she. She also says that she listened to the stories of her parents and grandparents about Kunta Kinte, and they stuck with her, even when she made fun of them in her youth. She didn’t make a big deal about racism, even when she was older. She knew who she was, and she went about living her life and taking care of her family.

A touching part of Episode 5 is when she tells her husband, Simon, to tend to his work, even though (unbeknownst to him) she’s desperately sick and needs attention. Simon has a degree in agriculture, and he’s trying to help a poor black sharecropper, Ab Decker (played by Brock Peters), to get his government subsidy, when the white owner of the property is laying claim to it. When Alex tells his mom that she’s sick and needs her husband’s attention, she replies that few people in their lifetimes have something important to do, so when someone like Simon does, he should see it through to the end. I’ve often seen that statement as a reflection of her growth from the oblivious, narcissistic belle of the ball that she was in previous episodes, and, in a sense, it is. But, in a sense, she’s also the same Bertha that she was throughout Episodes 2-5. That statement was probably the closest she ever got to reflection about the world around her—except for her statement to Simon that he shouldn’t use the white man’s derogatory name for himself. Most of the time, she was interested in her family, and she loved her husband, Simon, even if she didn’t fully understand what he was doing. I don’t mean to badmouth Bertha, for I was sad when she died on Episode 5, and at such a young age. I’m just struggling to understand her as a character.

Another character who intrigues me is Congressman Andy Warner, played by Marc Singer, of V fame. Congressman Warner is a racist, yet he’s still friendly with the African-Americans of his town, probably because they’re a part of his community and he wants to preserve “good relations” between the races. He ran against his father, Colonel Warner, by attempting to be more of a racist and a redneck than his father was. But he came to embrace the sophisticated bigotry of his father—the type that isn’t so hot-headed and that reaches out to blacks in some capacity, but which still keeps blacks down and nods at white violence against them every now and then. He changed from the rash, womanizing ways of his youth once he arrived at a position of status within his community. As with Bertha, Andy Warner’s a character I stuggle to understand.

In terms of the theme that I’ve discussed in past posts—that of appeasing the white man versus seeking freedom (see Roots TNG 2-3, Collins on Enoch, Psalm to the Real Solomon, Yada, Tabula Rasa (Sort Of), Lent), Paul Winfield’s character stands out to me. Paul Winfield heads the black college where Simon Haley teaches, and he sings spirituals to please the white donors. Simon views that as grovelling to white people. When the white landowner is upset at Simon’s attempt to get Ab his government subsidy and threatens to take action against the college, Paul Winfield tells Simon that he’s gone too far. “Why don’t you sing him your favorite spiritual?”, Simon sarcastically asks, and Paul Winfield replies that he would, if that would save the college. I think the difference between now (in the series) and slavery days is that, now, black people are appeasing whites in order to pursue freedom, which education can provide. Many of us have to kiss the feet of people we don’t like in order to do what we want, or at least to attain some measure of freedom. At least the appeasement now is a path to somewhere, not nowhere (continued slavery). Battles may still be necessary, but the question people may find themselves asking is, “Is it worth it?” For Paul Winfield, Simon was fighting a battle that he could not win, jeopardizing the future of African-Americans in the process.

Another note: Robert Culp, whom I know from the Greatest American Hero and as Debra’s dad on Everybody Loves Raymond, plays Mr. Pettyjohn on Episode 5. That didn’t stand out to me when I last saw Episode 5 because I hadn’t watched those shows that much up to that time. It’s amazing what you can notice after a year, based on what you’ve seen and heard!

Tomorrow, I won’t be writing about a black history movie, for I’ll be at the public library. But I’m planning to read some encyclopedia articles on Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. Dubois. Believe it or not, I haven’t read the World Book Encyclopedia since I was a lad! Doing so tomorrow will bring back memories of elementary school!

2. In Ancient Israelite Religion, I read Roland Murphy’s “Religious Dimensions of Israelite Wisdom.” On page 450, Murphy states that, in wisdom literature, “As regards ‘retribution’ specifically, God is not directly at work in the reward/punishment events of life[;] [r]ather, the deity is a kind of midwife who watches over the mechanical correspondence that is perceived to exist between an action and its consequence.”

That may work with many things that I read in Proverbs. If a person is lazy and won’t work, then he’ll go hungry. If a man messes around with somebody else’s wife, then there’s a chance that he’ll have to deal with a jealous husband, and that could be fatal. Proverbs also teaches people how to act appropriately so they can advance in life. In these cases, God isn’t really rewarding and punishing behavior, but behavior has good or bad consequences.

But does that always work in Proverbs? I think of the proverbs that say that a man who gives to the poor will be blessed, whereas the stingy or oppressive person will suffer want. I’m not sure if that’s necessarily true apart from divine intervention in the course of human events.

But this brings me to a point that Murphy makes on page 457, where he discusses the Egyptian concept of maat, which may underlie aspects of Israelite wisdom ideology. Murphy quotes S. Morenz’s view that maat “is the correct situation or harmony established in creation between nature and society, out of which flows justice, truth, etc.” Is this saying that nature benefits us when we do good, and hurts us when we do bad? In Egyptian wisdom ideology, is this due to direct divine intervention, or simply to the way that a god made the cosmos?

3. In Psalms II: 51-100, I read Mitchell Dahood’s comments on Psalm 93. Ugaritic literature had a story in which the storm-god, Baal, defeats the chaotic sea, Yam, whom the high god El sent to keep Baal in line (see Alexander Haig, Color Purple, Randy Nations, I Kings 15). Once Baal won, he needed a celestial palace to “fully exercise his royal powers” (343). In Psalm 93, Dahood sees some of the same themes, only Yahweh subordinates the storms and the sea and occupies a heavenly palace. In verse 1, the name of Yahweh occurs before the verb for “reigns,” whereas, ordinarily in Hebrew, the subject comes after the verb. Dahood says that the Psalmist is placing the subject, YHWH, first to emphasize that “Yahweh, and no other deity, exercises kingship” (340).

4. On page 195 of Narrative History and Ethnic Boundaries, Theodore Mullen’s talking about the story in I Samuel 4-6, in which the Philistines take Israel’s ark of the covenant and place it beside their god Dagon. The ark causes the statue of Dagon to fall down and to break, so the Philistines decide to return the ark to the Israelites. They make golden tumors and mice. Mullen states:

On one level, most certainly, the tumor images are symbols of the “one plague” that was on all the Israelites. On another, the Philistines have chosen to represent themselves and their cities as nothing other than “anal dwellings.” The inclusion of the images of the mice, symbols of all that belonged to the Philistine rulers, represented the people of Philistia as pestilence-carrying rodents which were, in Israelite terms, ritually unclean (Lev 11:29).

There’s a debate within Christianity about self-esteem. Should we see ourselves as vile creatures to appease God and receive his mercy, or should we affirm ourselves? Can we do both at once? According to Rachel Held Evans’ post, Lent, Depravity, and Why Hyper-Calvinism Has It Backwards, ‘the true ugliness of our depravity lies not in the fact that we have offended a God who hates us, but in the fact that we have offended a God who desperately and relentlessly loves us.” Of course, I don’t think that the Philistines truly saw themselves as “pestilence-carrying-rodents,” morally-speaking, for they weren’t seeking a relationship with the Israelite God. They just wanted to appease him through their humility so that he’d stop afflicting them. Their repentance wasn’t genuine. But at least they were humbled, as they realized that the Israelite God had the power to strike them with disease. That should lead them to at least see themselves as not-God and to be kinder and humbler in their relationship with others. But they returned to their oppressive ways after the plague had passed. Fear religion can sometimes keep people in line, but love is what draws them into a relationship with God.

5. In John Denton’s The Middle Platonists, I like Denton’s quote of Alexander Polyhistor (first century B.C.E.) on page 342, since it’s a good summary of Pythagorean doctrine on the origin of the cosmos. Denton discusses this in the first chapter of the book, but his quote on page 342 brings all that information into one place:

The principle of all things is the Monad; from this Monad there comes into existence the Indefinite Dyad as matter for the Monad, which is cause…From the Monad and the Indefinite Dyad arise the numbers; from numbers, points; from these, lines; from these, plane figures; from plane figures, solids; from solid figures there arise sensible bodies, the elements of which are four, fire, water, earth and air. These elements interchange and turn into one another completely and combine to produce a cosmos animate, intelligent, and spherical, with the earth at its center, the earth itself too being spherical and inhabited round about.

So the numbers and shapes we learned about in geometry led to the cosmos as it exists today, according to the Pythagoreans.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Roots TNG 2-3, Collins on Enoch, Psalm to the Real Solomon, Yada, Tabula Rasa (Sort Of), Lent

1. For Black History Month today, I watched Episodes 2-3 of Roots: The Next Generation. In my posts on Roots and Roots: the Next Generation, I’ve distinguished between the African-Americans who sought to appease white society to make a place for themselves and their people within the system, and those who challenged white society in their pursuit of freedom (see #1 in Roots TNG 1, Baltzer on the Suffering Servant, Dahood on the Afterlife, Bold Gideon, Apuleius—Meet Melinda Gordon and Jonathan Smith, along with the links there).

But the division between these two groups is not always clear-cut. For one, what is freedom? Tom Harvey defines it as having the right to vote, even if that means picking the lesser of two evils, in his case, Colonel Warner, who’s championing white supremacy to get the white redneck vote.

Tom Harvey’s son-in-law, Will Palmer, defines freedom as economic independence. The white elders of the town give Will Palmer the lumberyard after its previous drunken manager (played by Harry Morgan of MASH and Dragnet) had neglected it and accumulated a debt. As the elders tell Will, Will’s been the one keeping the lumberyard afloat anyway, so Will’s race won’t keep them from performing a sound business practice: giving Will the lumberyard.

Both Tom and Will are accused of being Uncle Tom’s who try to appease the white man. Tom’s daughter Elizabeth calls her father a Jim Crow, and Tom’s friends and family question his desire to support Colonel Warner, who’s a racist (or at least an opportunist), however elegant and refined he may be. And Tom mocks Will for being nice to the white elders who gave him the lumberyard, especially after some of these elders had approved of a recent lynching. But Will tells Tom that he’s fighting for freedom in his own way: he’ll pay his debts so that he owes the white man nothing, and he’ll make a success of his business.

In Episode 3, we see the conflict between the two groups in Simon Haley’s comments regarding Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. Dubois. Simon loves Booker T. Washington, who is exalted at the black college that he attends with Bertha, the granddaughter of Tom Harvey (who’s descended from the African, Kunta Kinte). But, when Bertha lends him W.E.B. DuBois’ new book, The Souls of Black Folk (which she got as a going-away present from her Aunt Warner, a student with Dubois at Fisk College), his faith in Booker T. is shaken, right before Booker is about to visit the campus! As Bertha (who’s not exactly an intellectual, as sweet as she may be) says to Simon, “It’s like you just lost your faith in Jesus!”

I had my stereotype of the positions of Washington and DuBois. Washington believed that blacks should improve themselves and become independent, whereas DuBois thought they should challenge white society in their pursuit of equality. But things are much more complex than that. For one, Simon Haley quotes DuBois’ statement that Booker T. Washington has sought to undermine black colleges, which somewhat took me aback, for I thought that Booker T. championed black colleges as an integral part of black advancement. And, when I saw the Great Debaters, there was a scene in which two sides were debating black suffrage, and the “anti” side actually appealed to W.E.B. DuBois to say that blacks shouldn’t overly push for what white society is not ready to accept.

Yale University has a good article on the subject: see here. Booker T. was accused of undermining black colleges because he focused on African-Americans gaining skills in industry and agriculture, while neglecting the liberal arts. W.E.B. Dubois may have believed that African-Americans (or at least the “talented tenth” of them who would lead the African-Americans) should have broader knowledge than that required for grunt work. So that could be the basis for his charge against Washington, which Simon read.

As far as the scene in the Great Debaters goes, I’m not sure what to say, except to note that the Yale article says Dubois believed in “political gradualism.” Perhaps he believed that African-Americans should aggressively pursue equality, but that they should do so strategically—picking their battles based (in part) on what whites were ready for.

Here’s something I like about Episode 2: it acknowledges that Democratic President Woodrow Wilson was an ardent segregationist. Unfortunately, the miniseries chose to whitewash FDR’s racism (see Wrong on Race)—on Episode 5 (I think).

2. In Ancient Israelite Religion, I read John Collins’ “The Place of Apocalypticism in the Religion of Israel.”

According to Collins, the figure of Enoch (Genesis 5:21-24) is based on the ancient Mesopotamian chararacter Emmeduranki. Enoch is seventh in a genealogy, and Emmeduranki is seventh in “several antediluvian king lists” (542). Enoch is 365 years old when he is taken, the length of a solar year, and “Emmeduranki was associated with the sun-god Shamash.” Enoch was taken and walked with God, and Emmeduranki “was admitted to the divine assembly”, meaning he went to heaven.

Collins also talks about the attitude of the Enoch group to the Mosaic law. The Enoch group believed in the apocalyptic book of I Enoch, which was about revelations that Enoch received in heaven concerning God and the distant future. I vaguely recall reading in a commentary that the Enoch group viewed I Enoch was a replacement for the Mosaic Torah, but that didn’t make much sense to me. I Enoch speaks in favor of the Maccabees and the Hasidim, who supported the Torah against Hellenistic aggression. I prefer what Collins says on page 548: “There is no reason to suppose that the Enoch group rejected the Mosaic law, but it was not sufficient for them; hence the need for the higher angelic revelation.” They felt they needed more than the stories and laws of the Pentateuch. Rather, they wanted to know what heaven was like, and especially God’s plan for their own time. Many who believed deep-down that the Bible wasn’t sufficient sought to overcome this problem by reading things into the Bible. The Enoch school, by contrast, embraced another book in addition to the Torah.

3. In Psalms II: 51-100, I read Mitchell Dahood’s comments on Psalm 72, which is called a Psalm of Solomon. Dahood says that the Psalm “may well have been composed by a functionary of the Solomonic court”, for the “language is in some verses very archaic…” Plus, certain verses can be applied to Solomon. For instance, v 8 says (in Dahood’s translation), “And may he rule from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth.” The river is probably the Euphrates, and Dahood reads this verse in light of I Kings 5:1: “Solomon ruled over all the kingdoms from the Euphrates (hannahar) to the land of the Philistines and to the border of Egypt. They brought tribute and served Solomon all the days of his life.”

So I guess Dahood is a biblical maximalist, who believes in a Solomonic kingdom as vast as the Bible depicts.

4. On pages 173 of Narrative History and Ethnic Boundaries, Theodore Mullen actually questions the widespread idea that the thugs in Genesis 19:5 and Judges 19 wanted to have homosexual sex. When they said “Bring them out that we may know them,” were they expressing a desire to gang-rape the guests?

Mullen says: While the verb yada’ clearly can carry sexual connotations, the narrative does not demand that a homosexual interpretation be given to the text. What is clear from the response of the hosts in each of these parallel accounts is that the actions of the people of the town are in violation of the rules of hospitality.

Unfortunately, as far as I can see, he doesn’t really support this statement. If yada doesn’t mean sexual relations in these stories, what does it mean?

5. On page 329 of The Middle Platonists, John Dillon states regarding second century C.E. philosopher Apuleius: Apuleius lays down the principle that man is born neither good nor evil, but having a nature which may incline either way. Seeds of virtue and of vice are sown in him at his birth, and it is the duty of education to foster the right ones, so that virtue and vice would come to coincide in the individual with pleasure and pain.

Christians would probably ask why we need to be taught virtue if we weren’t predisposed towards evil at birth. Others may argue, however, that the selfishness of infants isn’t “evil” but is a part of human development. Still, discipline is necessary in childhood as well. But don’t discipline and education imply that we have the capacity for goodness, even if there’s a pull in us towards mischief?

6. At Latin mass this morning, we had the priest who speaks about love, and he was talking about Lent. According to him, we can experience the glory and presence of God during our fast. Personally, I don’t plan to observe Lent. People have told me that fasting brings them closer to God and gives them a clearer mindset, but all it does for me is make me hungry. I fast on Yom Kippur every year, and that’s it.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Alexander Haig, Color Purple, Randy Nations, I Kings 15

1. I learned today that Alexander Haig has passed away. Alexander Haig had an illustrious career as a soldier and an advisor to Presidents. He served Douglas MacArthur in Korea, became a hero in the Vietnam War (after leaving his government post under Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara), advised Nixon during Watergate, commanded NATO, and took charge when President Reagan was shot. “I’m in charge here!”, the movie, Nixon, has his character say as he rolls a sick President Nixon through the hospital, in reference to his bold declaration when Reagan was shot.

I first heard of Alexander Haig in 1988. During the Democratic primaries for President, Al Gore was debating Richard Gephardt. Gephardt said to Gore, “You’re beginning to sound like Al Haig more than Al Gore.” And Gore replied, “And you’re beginning to sound more like Richard Nixon than Richard Gephardt!”

Al Haig also ran for President in 1988, only he was a Republican. According to the AP article that I read this morning, he supported continuing the Reagan Revolution, even as he railed against the Reagan Administration’s deficits. (Good for him!) I vaguely remember reading in the 1988 Presidential Biblical Scoreboard (a Christian conservative publication) that he was open to tax increases, which somewhat took me aback, because Republicans don’t say that out loud. But I wouldn’t bet my life on my memory there, for I read this morning that he encouraged President Obama not to raise taxes or embrace protectionism.

There have been numerous depictions of Al Haig in movies, from his role in Korea to his activity in the Reagan Administration (see Alexander Haig – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia). The ones I’ve seen are in Oliver Stone’s Nixon, Oliver Stone’s The Day Reagan Was Shot, and the controversial Showtime miniseries, The Reagans. In Nixon, he was a handsome, level-headed advisor. In the latter two films, however, he was a wild-eyed fanatic. “Give me the word, Mr. President, and I’ll turn Cuba into a parking lot!”, he said on The Reagans (and in real life). My favorite part on The Day Reagan Was Shot was when Haig handed Reagan a thick book on Central America (I think) and asked him to read it. Reagan replied, “I’m more interested in the big picture, and I leave it to you guys to take care of the details. So can’t you just give me the gist, like one or two pages?” Haig was baffled, saying, “One or two pages?” And Reagan responded, “One page.”

I just remembered this anecdote about Haig in Lou Cannon’s President Reagan: The Role of a Lifetime:

Veteran Soviet Ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin…received an even colder [reception] from Haig a few days after Reagan took office. Haig revoked the privilege extended by Henry Kissinger during the Nixon Administration, and continued during the Ford and Carter presidencies, of allowing the Soviet ambassador to enter the State Department through its underground garage, a practice that reflected the special nature of the superpower relationship. Dobrynin’s chauffeured limousine was turned away when the driver tried to pull into the garage, and Haig made sure that reporters were told of the incident. The new administration seemed to be sending a bristling message to the world that there would be no more U.S. coddling of the Soviets. (256)

Yup, there’s a new sheriff in town, Soviets!

The last time I heard Alexander Haig was when we were about to go to war with Iraq. Haig was on Sean Hannity’s show, and he came across as a nice, gracious old man. He even called Alan Colmes a “good fella” (if memory serves me correctly). But he predicted that our liberation of Iraq wouldn’t take that long: we’d be in, then out before you know it. When that didn’t happen, I arrived at an insight: Not everything I hear on right-wing radio reflects the way the world is! That’s why I’m more skeptical nowadays about going to war.

But Al Haig deserves honor, and that’s why he’ll get on my blog. R.I.P. Alexander Haig!

2. For Black History Month today, I watched Alice Walker’s The Color Purple, which stars (among others) Whoopi Goldberg (in her debut), Danny Glover, and Oprah Winfrey (back when she was fat). Although I was bored with The Color Purple the first time I’d seen it, I decided to watch it again after seeing Danny Glover in Queen. In Queen, Glover played a supportive husband and father. But (for some reason) I felt obligated not to celebrate that, for I remembered a role in which he was a horrible husband and a negligent father: on The Color Purple. So I decided to watch it again.

Whoopi plays Celie, Glover plays her husband Albert, and Oprah Winfrey plays the brash Sophia. Plus, there are two other characters you should know about to understand my write-up. One is Shug, who is Albert’s mistress, a dancer. And the second is Millie, the mayor’s wife, who is white. Sophia works for Millie after having spent years in prison for assaulting her.

Two scenes stand out to me. Near the end of the movie, Shug and her new husband tell Albert that they’ll be taking Celie with them to Memphis—for good. Shug and Celie got to be good friends, and Shug realizes that Celie wants to leave her abusive, unappreciative husband. Albert is upset (not because he loves Celie but because he needs a woman to take care of the house), and he tells Celie that she won’t make it in the world because she’s ugly, misshapen, and isn’t even a good housekeeper or cook. When Celia is about to kill Albert, Shug and Sophia try to stop her. Shug tells Celie to come with her so they can immediately leave. And Sophia advises Celie not to make the same mistake that she made—to do a rash act of violence that will get her in jail (or worse). “He’s not worth that!”, they say. Fortunately, Celie makes the right decision and leaves with Shug.

This just reminds me not to give in to hate, for the person I hate is not worth me being consumed with anger or breaking the law. Celie had an opportunity to make a new life for herself, and revenge would blow that for her. The same is true for me and others.

The second scene was when Sophia got to see her children on Christmas, and her boss, Millie, was driving like a maniac outside the home of Sophia’s family. Millie crashes, and Sophia’s relatives go out to help her. But Millie is afraid of them because they’re black, and she frantically tells them that she’s always been good to the “coloreds.”

This scene stood out to me because I sometimes have the impression that African-Americans I’ve known are sensitive about people being afraid of them. When I lived in New York, black people would come up to me asking for money, and they’d say, ”Why are you afraid of me?” But I had a right to be afraid, for I don’t like being accosted on the street by complete strangers! I’m that way with many people, black and white.

3. I was thinking some about Randy Nations on Lost. Randy Nations was John Locke’s boss who harrassed and fired him. I also learned that he was Hurley’s jerk-boss when he worked at the chicken place. When Hurley won the lottery and bought the chicken place and the box company where Locke works, he tells the fired Locke, “Randy Nations is a double douche.”

I saw something similar on Men of a Certain Age. Owen works for his dad’s car dealership, and his dad ends up in the hospital. His dad leaves the management of the company, not to Owen, but to some handsome, charismatic jerk, who’s good with the ladies and the customers, and likes to needle Owen. When the jerk says that he values the services of all the employees—both the quarterback and the water carrier—pointing to Owen as he says “water carrier,” Owen decides that he’s had enough. He goes to a competing car dealership and applies for a job. From what I saw in the ad for next week’s episode, he actually does a good job there!

How does one deal with jerks? That’s one reason I’m afraid of getting a job—having to deal with the Randy Nations of the world. And, while it’s not always greener on the other side of the fence, there are times when a change can do us a world of good, as Owen learns.

4. For my weekly quiet time, I studies I Kings 15. But I’m going to talk some about I Kings 13-14 as well.

Asa is a good king of Judah, in that he eliminates a lot of idolatry in the nation. But, when Baasha, the aggressive king of Northern Israel, sets up a fortress in Ramah, which is not far from Asa’s city of Jerusalem, Asa decides that he needs help. So he bribes Ben-Hadad of Syria, who proceeds to whip Northern Israel around and to take her northern cities. Baasha then leaves Ramah and goes back to Tirzah, the capital of Northern Israel. Asa then recruits all of the Judahites to tear down Ramah and to build two new cities, which would protect Judah from Northern Israelite aggression.

I Kings 15 doesn’t offer an explicit value judgment on Asa’s acts, but later interpreters did. The Chronicler, in II Chronicles 16, says that Asa was wrong to go to Ben-Hadad of Syria for assistance, for he should’ve trusted in the LORD, who had defeated Judah’s enemies in a previous battle during the reign of Asa. And, in the Babylonian Talmud Sotah 10a, rabbis say that Asa was wrong to make every Judahite male tear down Ramah and march further north to build the two cities—especially the scholars and the newly married bridegrooms, who should’ve been exempt! The passage says that Asa got a foot-disease in I Kings 15 because he sinned with his feet. It may be thinking of Asa forcing every Judahite male to march for his construction projects.

A lack of faith is a significant issue in the Jeroboam story. Jeroboam is appointed king by the prophet Ahijah, who tells Jeroboam that he’ll have an everlasting dynasty if he obeys the LORD. Well, Jeroboam becomes the king of Northern Israel, as Ahijah predicts. But does he trust in the LORD? No. He fears that allowing the Israelites to go to Jerusalem for the festivals—in obedience to God’s command—will warm their hearts towards the king of Judah and lead them to overthrow Jeroboam. So he sets up alternative sanctuaries with golden calves and non-Levitical priests. Jeroboam sins and causes Israel to sin through his fear, which reflected a lack of faith.

Yet, he’s not totally without faith, for when his son is sick, he consults Ahijah, the prophet who predicted he’d be king. He must believe that Ahijah has some prophetic authority, for he sends his wife to him in a dire situation. But why’s he trust God here, but not when he made the golden calves–in violation of God’s command. It doesn’t make much sense! But his story sheds light (for me at least) on what James 1:7 says: a double-minded man is unstable in all his ways.

I also think of Abijam, the son of Rehoboam, king of Judah. In II Chronicles 13, he is called “Abijah”—”my father [is] Jah”—and he expresses faith in the God of Israel during a battle with Northern Israel. And God helps Judah against her enemy. In I Kings 15, however, he is called “Abijam”—”my father [is] the sea.” The sea represented chaos and anti-creation. Yam was a Canaanite and Phoenician god, whom El used to whip Baal into line and who then ruled as a tyrant, until Baal defeated him and restored order. Why did Abijam adopt the name of Yam—or is the Deuteronomist saying that his disobedience of God resulted in disorder and chaos for his nation, calling him “Abijam” to reflect that thesis? Some say that “Abijam” is simply a misspelling, based in part on the fact that it doesn’t appear in the Septuagint. Maybe. Maybe not. I still like discussing it because it’s relevant to my larger discussion on faith and the unpredictable turmoil of life.

I’ll stop here.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Roots TNG 1, Baltzer on the Suffering Servant, Dahood on the Afterlife, Bold Gideon, Apuleius—Meet Melinda Gordon and Jonathan Smith

1. For Black History Month today, I watched the first episode of Roots: The Next Generation. On it, Chicken George’s son, Tom Harvey, tries to help African-Americans in the post-slavery South. He supports a school for African-American children, but he has to appease the influential former Confederate Colonel Frederick Warner (played by Henry Fonda) to get the project off the ground. And Tom’s active in politics, which often requires him to side with the lesser of two evils (as his ornery father, Chicken George, likes to carp on).

Although slavery has ended, we still see the tension that I discussed in my post, Roots 3: Two Mindsets, Adopting a Heritage, Clinging to a Dream. There, I talked about two types of slaves. One type tries to make a good life for himself and his loved ones within the system of slavery. This attempt can be successful, but it’s not fool-proof, for the slave master still has the power to harm his slave. The other kind wants freedom, and is willing to do anything to get it. Sometimes he succeeds; often, he fails. But he goes down fighting.

In the first episode of Roots: The Next Generation, Tom Harvey is trying to make a good life for African-Americans within the racist system. To keep the school open, he feels that he has to compromise to appease Colonel Warner, who wants to fire the highly educated African-American schoolteacher because his son (played by Richard Thomas) wants to marry her. Tom’s daughter, Elizabeth, calls Tom a “Jim Crow,” appealing to Kunta Kinte’s desire for freedom, and asking her father what he has done with the freedom that they now have. There are times when Tom Harvey stands up to the white oppressor, as when a train conductor refuses to seat him in the white section, even though Tom has a first class ticket. But, in the end, what can he do? He feels that he needs to appease the powerful, wealthy whites in order to help his own people.

I talked some about this in my post yesterday, Jesse Owens Story, Righteous Sufferer, The Proof of the Pudding, Priestess of the Household, Evil. Jesse Owens preferred a peaceful approach of dialogue and encouragement of sound living to improve the conditions of African-Americans, and he looked askance at civil disobedience and calls for violence. The African-American investigating him called his approach “waiting for whatever crumbs the white man gives you.” Other African-American leaders, however, preferred to get into the face of the white establishment, disrupting their oppressors’ day-to-day lives until they got what they wanted.

Which works? Gradualism, education, and waiting for people to accept the idea of equality? Or in-your-face disruption? I’m not an African-American, so I can’t really comment on this, except to say that there may be a time and a place for both approaches. And it’s a question that other movements grapple with as well.

Another issue: the afterlife. When Chicken George dies, Tom prays that his father might be received into heaven to be with George’s mother Kizzy and his ancestor from Africa, Kunta Kinte. This puzzles me because I wonder what Tom thinks are the requirements for entrance into heaven. He’s a Christian, right? But, why would Kunta be in heaven, if he’d never accepted Christ as his personal Savior? Kunta said defiantly throughout his episodes of Roots that he was loyal to Allah and would not become a Christian. Does the author of Episode 1 of Roots: The Next Generation misunderstand Christian doctrine?

I’d like to say so, but in a later episode, Simon Haley tells his son, Alex, why he doesn’t like Malcom X: “I’ve always accepted Christ as my personal Savior and feel sorry for anyone who doesn’t.” Simon’s problem was that Malcom was a Muslim, who hadn’t accepted Christ as his personal Savior. Did Tom Harvey have an inclusivist picture of the afterlife? Or perhaps he’s like many people, even those with Christian backgrounds: he either believes that everyone goes to heaven after death, or that being a good person is enough to get one through the pearly gates.

2. In Ancient Israelite Religion, I read Klaus Baltzer’s “Liberation from Debt Slavery After the Exile in Second Isaiah and Nehemiah.” On page 478, he seems to interpret the servant of Second Isaiah as Israel. This somewhat surprised me, for, in his Hermeneia commentary on Second Isaiah, Baltzer interprets the servant as Moses. In Exodus 32:32-33, Moses is interceding with the Israelites after they had worshipped the Golden Calf. Moses asks God to blot his name from the book that God has written—to take Moses’ life instead of that of the Israelites. God responds that God doesn’t work that way: he blots out the names of those who have sinned.

According to Baltzer, the Servant Songs of Second Isaiah are about God allowing Moses to die in place of Israel, enabling Israel’s redemption. The result is that the servant is not named, indicating that Moses’ name has been blotted out of God’s book.

I’m not sure what the implications of this are, if I’m even understanding Baltzer correctly. Baltzer views Second Isaiah as like a play. He may be arguing that, within that play, you have the character of Moses, who delivers Israel out of bondage to take her to the Promised Land, offering to die in the people’s place when they sin. But the referent to the play is, not the Exodus, but a similar situation: God delivering Israel from Babylonian captivity and taking her to the Promised Land.

3. In Psalms II: 51-100, Mitchell Dahood says that he has an unconventional view on the issue of the Psalms and eternal life. Many scholars contend that, when the Psalmist asks God to redeem him from the pit, he’s talking about God saving him from a near-death experience, not resurrection or blissful immortality. Dahood offers some references where he comments on this issue, so, in this post, I’ll see what he has to say.

I didn’t look at all of Dahood’s references, but only the ones in volume 2. His argument appears to be that, in Ugaritic literature, a god’s court or mountain or house can refer to his abode outside of the earthly realm, what many of us would call “heaven.” So, for Dahood, when the Psalmist asks to dwell in these places forever, he’s talking about entering a celestial Paradise and being with God after death. And there are precedents for this, Dahood says, for God took Enoch and Elijah to heaven. Moreover, in Ugaritic literature, there are people who almost attain eternal life or who actually succeed (Utnapishtim, the Noah figure in the Epic of Gligamesh).

Sure, in the Hebrew Bible and the ancient Near East, we see the concept that people after death go to the Underworld. But could Dahood be correct that the Psalmist hoped for something different—to be with God in the celestial realm and to live forever, as did Enoch and Elijah, and (at least in terms of eternal life) certain ancient Near Eastern figures?

4. On page 147 of Narrative History and Ethnic Boundaries, Theodore Mullen says the following about Gideon: The narrative now returns to the issue of the oppressive activities of the Midianites and the need for deliverance that introduced this series of accounts. If the foreign god could be overcome, then surely the foreign oppressor could also be defeated.

I wondered if Mullen was mistaken about the Midianites worshipping Baal, until I remembered that they promoted the worship of the Baal of Peor in Numbers 25.

Mullen’s statement helps me to appreciate the weight of what Gideon did when he tore down the altar of Baal. In those days, people believed that dishonoring a god’s holy place could lead that god to make the defiler’s life a living hell, if the god didn’t kill him first. That’s why overcoming the god was considered almost as significant as defeating flesh-and-blood oppressors. Gideon must have had strong faith that his God was more powerful than Baal, or was existent whereas Baal was not.

5. In the Middle Platonists, on pages 318-319, John Dillon discusses the views of the second century C.E. philosopher Apuleius. Dillon refers to the ancient belief that daemons were in the air. This stood out to me because Ephesians 2:2 refers to Satan as the prince of the power of the air. Granted, the ancients didn’t necessarily see daemons as evil spirits, but rather as helpful guides and intermediaries between humans and the divine. But perhaps early Christianity saw them as demons, the same way that Paul called the gods of the other nations devils (I Corinthians 10:20-21).

On another topic, Apuleius said that good souls departing from their bodies “are entrusted with the care of definite parts of the earth, and even with individual households.” But those “who have died in sin, on the other hand, wander over the world in a sort of exile, causing what havoc they can.” For Apuleius, these ghosts can be used to punish wicked men, “but should not cause alarm to the good.”

I like what Apuleius says here because it somewhat conforms to the Armstrongite picture of the afterlife: we won’t just be playing a harp in heaven, but will be helping people in some capacity. So this life actually is a preparation for the life thereafter: we’re being prepared for a vocation of humble service.

The fate of the bad souls reminds me of the show, Ghost Whisperer. Melinda’s goal is to cross departed souls into the light, a place of forgiveness and peace and reunion with loved ones. But they have to take care of unfinished business before they can cross. Some spirits, led by a deceased cult leader, prefer to stay behind on earth to gain power and to cause havoc. They’re like the bad souls that Apuleias talks about—only they will probably harm the good people, not just the wicked deserving of punishment. But some are staying behind because they feel that they have to atone for their sins before they cross over. They’re trying to serve humanity to make up for some evil that they did before they died. This differs from Apuleias, who held that the good departed souls were the ones who would serve humanity, not the souls on probation. But I guess that we see the concept of ghosts on probation helping others before they earn their wings in other stories—Highway to Heaven, for example.

I wonder if some of these ideas can be reconciled with the Christian worldview in any way.

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